By Anne Ruisi
The Kiwanis Club of Birmingham will induct six business leaders into the Birmingham Business Hall of Fame on Aug. 25 at The Fennec.
Claude B. Nielson, Coca-Cola Bottling Co. United Inc., and David W. Wood II and John H. Wood of Wood Fruitticher Grocery Co. will be inducted, as will the late Kirkwood R. Balton, of Booker T. Washington Insurance, the late Thomas E. Jernigan of Marathon Corp. and the late Judy M. Merritt, former president of Jefferson State Community College.
The Birmingham club is the world’s largest Kiwanis Club with more than 540 members. The Birmingham Business Hall of Fame Committee since 1997 has annually selected business leaders to induct into the hall of fame who have shown strong leadership and made extraordinary contributions to the greater Birmingham area. Inductees can be living or deceased. It’s part of the 105-year-old club’s mission of building a stronger community.
“It has been my good fortune to have a business career working with a team of exceptional people and benefiting from exceptional brands,” Nielsen said. “Any success I’ve enjoyed as a business leader must be shared with the thousands of associates within the Coca-Cola United family who made leading our business over the years such a joy.
“I am honored to be recognized by Kiwanis and join the company of the other inductees who have had such an important impact on Birmingham and our greater community,” he continued. “It is particularly gratifying for me to join my wife, Kate Johnson Nielsen (2019), and my father-in-law, Crawford T. Johnson III (2004), in the Kiwanis Club Business Hall of Fame.”
Nielsen, a Mountain Brook resident who joined Coca-Cola Bottling Co. United Inc. in 1979, rose to become CEO in 1991 and was named chairman in 2003. In 2013, the company embarked on a major territorial expansion that more than tripled its size and scope in terms of revenues, geography and the number of employees and facilities.
He retired as CEO in 2016, while continuing to serve as chairman.
He has served in leadership positions in the Coca-Cola system and beverage industry, including as chairman of the American Beverage Association and The Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation. He also served on the board of governors of the Coca-Cola Bottlers’ Association.
Nielsen’s numerous civic and charitable works includes the United Way of Central Alabama and the American Cancer Society, and he served on the Birmingham Airport Authority Board. He is a member of the Birmingham Rotary Club and has served on the executive committee of the Birmingham Business Alliance.
He was inducted into the Alabama Academy of Honor in 2016 and he and his wife, Kate, were recognized by the Greater Alabama Council of the Boy Scouts of America in 2017 with the Heart of an Eagle Award for their community service and were named Outstanding Civic Leaders by the Association of Fundraising Professionals in 2021.
The Wood Brothers
Brothers David W. Wood II and John H. Wood of Wood Fruitticher took over leadership of their family business after their father died at an early age. Over 38 years until their retirement in 2017, they grew the company from $10 million in sales to $400 million.
David Wood, a Birmingham resident, is a graduate of Leadership Birmingham and is in the current class of Leadership Alabama. He served on the Birmingham Airport Authority and in leadership positions with the Boy Scouts of America. He is on the board of the Community Food Bank of Central Alabama and has flown more than 60 flights for the Veterans Airlift Command, an organization that flies wounded veterans to and from hospitals around the country for treatment.
John H. Wood, also a Birmingham resident, is a member of the Kiwanis Club of Birmingham and has served in many leadership positions in the Presbyterian Church of America.
The company’s website notes that when the brothers retired, they handed the business to the fourth generation of the family – a milestone that only 3% to 5% of family businesses achieve.
This year’s event is sponsored by Alabama Power Company, Coca-Cola Bottling Co. United, Wood Fruitticher, Balch & Bingham, Bradley, Featheringill Capital, Milo’s Tea Company, The Piedmont Group, Protective Life Corporation and Starnes Media.
To learn more about the event or to buy tickets, go to kcob.org/events/bbhof. Tickets include dinner and complimentary valet parking sponsored by Alabama Power Company.